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I was in Potbelly’s in Columbia Heights and an old man asked the sandwich artist for the bathroom key. He was denied the key, on the grounds that he wasn’t a customer. The man invoked what should be the Trumpest of cards when it comes to the bathroom: “I’m a senior citizen.” Still he was denied.

This and many other encounters that we’ve witnessed, or ourselves been a part of, are just tiles in the mosaic of cold and indifferent businesses in this city that on a regular basis deny us citizens the use of their bathrooms. In Washington we don’t have public bathrooms to speak of. Not even in Metro stations, which are essentially hubs of a public work. Sure, you can badger a Metro employee for long enough and finally get access to the secret bathroom but not with a bunch of hemming and hawing on their part.

So let me ask you, DC: where in the name of Zeus do we pee?


It’s a game of espionage trying to find the coffee shop so busy that you can slip past the employees and blend in enough to do the sneaky pee. There’s Starbucks, which is an oasis of bathrooms typically but what they and many other places like to do is put us through the most shameful and degrading moment of our week: asking for the key.


They have a bathroom and the bathroom needs a key. They key is behind the counter. So you sidle past the line, holding a hand up to indicate to the line that you aren’t cutting, and then interrupt a transaction to ask a person handling food to please give you a totem of access to basically the filthiest place in the building. Then once you have sufficiently covered this little fecal wand with all the varieties of germs available, the proprietor asks that you return it, so that they may keep it safely behind the counter with all the food. They will also silently determine exactly what you did in their facility based on the length of time you were gone.

Is this system working for ANYONE? Be us senior citizens or no, there must be a more humane way for businesses to treat the matter.

I nominate an honor system of bathroom tipping. If you are a non-customer using the head, put a dollar in the tip jar. This can go towards the inevitable extra cleaning and save us the degradation of a bathroom key exchange. This modest proposal is an appeal to the public and business owners alike. Open your bathrooms to us and we will shower you with dollars instead of pee pee.